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Take-aways from SMX Advanced 2010

A few notes from SMX Advanced I consider important:

Google Still Insists on “No Site Search pages”

Good SEO work integrates user experience with search engine expectations. Sometimes (often?) that includes creating kick-ass site search pages for our users. We all agree that search is important, and site search is very useful (to users) for many (especially large) sites. Google even sells local site search products you can use. So when a good SEO hand-picks certain essential site search results sets and optimizes them to get indexed…. does it still violate Google’s webmaster guidelines?

Yes, according to Maile Ohye of Google (front row left). Google does not want to index search results, and the webmaster guidelines unequivocally state that site search results pages need to be marked no-index or otherwise blocked so they are not in the Google search results.

White Hatters can now go back to work… the rest of this post is just nuance.

For the rest of you: continue to properly managing your seo-friendly URLs. Maile acknowledged Google is actively testing some new approaches to handling the local site search issue, but emphasized there is no doubt that the current policy is “no search results in the index“. Read on for insights into what sort of solutions the current Google team is likely to produce and test.

Faceted Navigation is now Additive Filters (because Google says so)

The term “Faceted Navigation” refers to user nav crafted around functional qualities.. like a submenu under category shoes that offers navigation links for mens, womens, and kids. SEOs are working hard to create a great user experience, based on careful (and expensive) user tracking and behavior modeling. What Adam Audette called faceted navigation is, to put it plainly, awesome for users.

Google on the other hand… well let’s just note that while Google says some things, they often act differently. Google calls this “additive filters” and is currently investigating how they may (someday) accommodate it. Google loves name-value pairs in URLs and is very likely to produce a “solution” that relies on name-value pairs in the URL, something Maile Ohye referred to as “standard encodings“.

Drum Roll Please…..The biggest take-away from SMX Advanced for me was….

Google is increasingly a data-based company when dealing with webmasters (despite the “serve the users” rhetoric). Increasingly, Google will give webmasters marching orders that give priority to uniformity of structure, even if that trumps user experience. Watch for it going forward.

In order to maintain control, Google needs transparency in the crawl/index process. Transparency from YOU, the publisher.

Sitemaps tell Google your priorities, your freshness, and your canonicalization even before a site crawl. Microformats tell Google your content components and their purpose, separate from their context or how well your designers represented that context to users. Webmaster console identifies a person with authority for accessing your hosting server, and requires her phone number if she comes through a proxy or international network. The list continues to grow with name-value pairs and any future “solutions” this current Google technology team is considering via the name-value pairs approach : force webmasters to disclose their information architecture in the URL, so content can be parsed effectively outside of the view (URL).

That’s one reason “faceted navigation” is now “additive filters”… Google’s team  views the URL discovery process as a parsing of content (e.g. filters) and NOT a collection and presentation prep process for “views” suitable for search users. Views would be considered unique (and thus worthy of indexing and producing YOUR URLS in SERPs). Structured sets (identified by structured “encodings”) simply represent data.  As always, Google’s eyes are on organizing your information (not your web pages).

No matter how beautiful, engaging, and awesome you might make some of your local site search results sets, if Google requires you to identify them as product=shoes&color=brown instead of /brown-shoes-for-men, Google can control the data presentation layer outside of your web page.

End note: I apologize to the astute reader. You are correct… nothing new under the sun, same stuff we’ve been seeing all along, and your advanced SEO strategies probably do not have to change much based on this report from SMX Advanced 2010. But doesn’t it feel good to see things following a recognizable pathway?


  1. Ani Lopez wrote:

    I completely agree, nothing new under the sun so ‘advanced’ does not apply here.
    How many more years are we going to discuss ‘canonical’?

    Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Permalink
  2. Adam Audette wrote:

    “… Google will give webmasters marching orders that give priority to uniformity of structure, even if that trumps user experience. Watch for it going forward.”

    Really interesting thinking as always, John. Will keep an eye on this going forward. Interesting times indeed.

    Friday, June 11, 2010 at 10:40 am | Permalink
  3. Fed Up wrote:

    When is everyone going to wake up and smell the manure? Google has moved on to other things. Their search results now are a pile of garbage filled with “results” that are at the top simply because they have been “aged” like a crappy bottle of $10 wine. The whole nonsense about site loading time has a new “indicator” of quality?! Seriously?! Yes! What an advancement in search technology that is! I mean duh: The consumer will decide that thank you very much!

    If you study one market niche long enough you can clearly see how the whole Google search model is just utter garbage with flawed geo-location results being the norm and a consumer being fed results that have little or nothing to do with what they went looking for. And why? Uhh because that “result” has been sitting in a Google index for several years (!). Rubbish. New and BETTER websites? Who cares: They sit in the equivalent of oblivion until Google deems them ready for prime time! Well that certainly means quality! What a joke. Who among us doesn’t see this for what it is: A great opp for Google to rake in Adword $$$ from desperate website owners who poured their guts into a website only to see it rot in Google oblivion for months on end.
    Link building? Forget it. The world is awash in NOFOLLOW. Write great content and get it placed in other folks’ (High PR) blogs? Hell – doesn’t even make it to a Google index that I can see.

    Google’s pledge to deliver quality search results is utter ^#%#^&*# – they are making phones, netbooks, diversifying right and left… “Search” for Google is like a nice logo now – nothing more.

    Google has been wildly successful at making the Yellow Pages obsolete. Scores of businesses now depend on Google for their very existence. That is a testament to Google’s success up to a certain point. But by the same token how can you have this giant colossus striding the earth, telling business owners how to do this that and the other thing online while never being beholden to any rules or guidelines themselves? The SECRET Google algorithm?! I mean are you kidding me?! How about breaking these people up a la ATT? THAT would be a great first step towards fixing something that is broken and costing many small business owners their livelihood and their sanity.

    Monday, June 14, 2010 at 9:07 am | Permalink
  4. Gab wrote:

    “But doesn’t it feel good to see things following a recognizable pathway? ” Why do you think I read to the end ;D.

    Seriously though, is ‘faceted navigation’ just new jargon (yay more jargon!) for subcategory links? eg ‘engagement rings’ linked from a rollout menu, once you hover on ‘rings’?

    Monday, June 21, 2010 at 11:37 am | Permalink
  5. john andrews wrote:

    @gab not really. Faceted makes use of logic to offer the second level choices… more like filtering. Subcats by themselves require the user to cognitively filter the sub choices.

    Monday, June 21, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Permalink
  6. Underdown wrote:

    So siloing is now faceted navigation?

    Monday, June 21, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Permalink
  7. Shari Thurow wrote:

    Hi guys-

    With all due respect, the term “faceted classification” and its application to information retrieval (library and information sciences) has been around for a very, very long time.

    It is not siloing. It is not subcategorization….that’s a gross oversimplification. There are many books on the topic (Peter Morville does a good job of explaining it in his latest book Search Patterns).

    Faceted classification is not necessarily good for the user. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t. But it does lead to duplicate content delivery to web search engines, and from an online searcher/shopper’s point of view? That duplicate content delivery is annoying and does make them less likely to click on a search result from the same company.

    I highly encourage SEOs to learn more about taxonomy, ontology, faceted classification, and many of the other topics that library and information scientists research and apply on an ongoing basis. But it means swallowing your pride (hey, I’ve had to do that many, many, many times) and learning from people who are far more knowledgeable about this subject than we are.

    And it doesn’t mean Google’s interpretation of good IA. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know anyone, personally, I’ve met at Google who understands effective IA and corresponding navigation design.

    John replies: Well, thanks for the comment. You might want to re-read my post from the perspective of a practicing SEO, not an academic or librarian. The discussions at SMX about “Faceted Navigation” and “additive filters” had nothing to do with information retrieval, although I’m sure some appreciate the reference to academic papers. As for Google and IA, does that matter either? SEO is not about “being right”… it’s about achieving results. That’s one of the Advanced SEO take-aways.

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 7:26 am | Permalink